This is a response to a Meet Up meeting that I attended of The London Philosophy Club “Should we teach emotional well-being in schools?”

It was very interesting to hear the different sides of a debate and refreshing to see people debate them rationally. The only annoying thing was the guy at the back coughing all the time …

Oh, it was me? Sorry!!

I would like to have joined in a bit more, but I knew that if I had tried to start talking it would only serve to make me cough more, so I kept my silence (this time) and decided to save what I had to say and do it in type. Here goes;

When discussing any subject as a question of dichotomy it is very easy (due to the limitations of human perceptions) to focus directly upon the dichotomy and not look beyond it; i.e. is it either good or bad in itself, or is there other unseen factors that contribute towards the bad that we see?

Educating children about well being is not bad in itself, in fact I consider it commendable. Arguing about what we call it is neither here nor there and does not change its innate nature. So calling it “well being”, “happiness”, or calling it “an education in understanding the neurological basis of what makes us unhappy”, doesn’t really make much difference. At the end of the day, concern for the well being of our children, on the face of it, can’t be a bad thing.

Where it gets messy, and where any such movement gets messy, is when you get down to individual motivations and agendas. It’s something pretty much inescapable, that people will always turn the meaning of something towards fitting in with their own motivations and agendas (and isn’t this the core of everything that we criticise religions for?). it’s pretty much an inescapable fact that in our society there are two vocations that are pretty much driven by motivations and agendas geared towards performance; Government and educators (educators between 11 – 18 primarily). Everything is about performance and targets, and performance and targets create the anxiety of not reaching those targets. Another, more primal, word for anxiety is FEAR.

Governments are in for four years and are never really sure if they will get a second term. It’s all down to their performance and meeting their targets. This creates a lot of anxiety (FEAR)

Educators are yearly assessed based upon their pupils performance and meeting their targets. This creates a lot of anxiety (FEAR)

So it stands to reason that Government and Educators are going to take this interest in children’s well being and try and tie it in with performance and targets. And I don’t think it should be condemned just because of this failing because it isn’t a failing, itself, in the interest of children’s well being, but rather the failing of a society based upon performance and targets. Because the goal or performance and targets creates a lot of anxiety (FEAR)

Now for the phylogeny of FEAR;

As an animal that lived in packs and feared predators, it was very important that if one of the group sensed danger, that danger was immediately communicated to the rest of the group. It’s a process we see in many mammals today and it has to be an immediate and instinctive “kneejerk” in order to be effective and so it is something we would call “unconscious”. I would suggest that we still have this instinct today, although probably very confused by the complex social world we now inhabit. When we feel fear, we will “unconsciously” be driven to transmit fear to those in our surroundings. In modern psychology this transfer of fear is often referred to as “projection” and I would suggest that “projection” is a perverted version of the instinct in mammals to warn others of the group that danger is at hand.

Back to Governments and Educators;

I think I have suggested that behind the motivations and agendas of many individuals within these vocations is FEAR. And I have shown how, when we feel danger, we will transmit or transfer that danger to our surroundings through an “unconscious” process. The result is that Government and Educators have a strong inclination to transmit or transfer FEAR on to their surroundings. The result is that the governed and the educated will be made to feel that FEAR through an “unconscious” process that transmits and transfers that FEAR to them.

Once, as a response to the question of “What is happiness?”, I responded “Happiness is the complete absence of fear”. That was probably a little too simplistic. Many people often experience fear as exciting (A horror movie, a rollercoaster ride, etc.) and at the end come out feeling the exhilaration as something akin to happiness (otherwise why would they seek it out?). I would argue that this isn’t happiness, but rather a chemical reaction to a temporary high in certain neurotransmitters. But then isn’t happiness itself a result of neurotransmitters? People of many religions find happiness in the comfort that the religion protects them from an existential fear of their own mortality. Most people walking around today, walk around with a cocktail of fears seething, hidden, below the surface; “Will I be able to make my mortgage repayments in the future?”, “is my partner going to cheat on me in the future?”, “will I do a good job of protecting and bringing up my children?”, etc., etc.

So I will say again “happiness is the complete absence of fear”. Therefore “Well being is the complete absence of fear”. This also works neurologically and physiologically, too. Fear releases hormones that interfere with many of our physiological and neurological functions. Cortisol shuts down the frontal cortex, damages the hippocampus and other areas of the brain and kills brain cells. Cortisol also shuts down many bodily functions; the immune system (leading to an inability to fight infection and disease), digestion (leading to IBS and perhaps even bowel cancer), hair growth (leading to male pattern baldness and alopecia), and so on and so forth.

So FEAR is not good for us. FEAR also shuts down aspects of physiological and neurological development in our children.

If we are to be interested in the “well being” of our children. Then we need to work, as much as possible, in creating an environment for them that protects them from the negative effects of FEAR and that promotes their growth, without the pressures of performance and targets. They will then grow and develop naturally, with love, rather than be forced to grow and develop to meet performance targets and agendas that ultimately breed FEAR.